James Snowden’s earliest experiences in band began in 1955 at Foster Junior High in Longview, underthe direction of Bob Ingram. Like many boys, he dreamed of playing the trumpet, but without his owninstrument, he was placed on the baritone. The next year the family relocated to the north side ofLongview in the Judson School District. His director, Wilburn Martin, needed a tuba player, so James not-too-cheerfully changed to the “bass horn.”
James received an outstanding music education from Wilburn Martin. The discipline, instrumental technique, and music theory were all top notch, and he became hooked on instrumental music. When Wilburn Martin was given an opportunity to move into elementary music he did so, as this was his first love. During the summer, James found a ten dollar trombone at a garage sale and taught himself to play it before school started. He threatened the boys (all younger) in the trombone section that it would be bad news for them if they told the new director that he ever played anything but trombone. The transition went smoothly.
The most fateful event of his move to the Judson schools was meeting his sweetheart and future wife, Shirley Pace, who played the alto saxophone in band. Beginning in the tenth grade, they started going together, and this continued through school and college. Marriage followed in 1965, and they observed their fiftieth anniversary this past June. Shirley taught and consulted for thirty-five years in Lufkin, Longview, Lubbock, Jenks, OK, and Pine Tree. She was named Teacher of the Year twice at Pine Tree, once as Regional Teacher of the Year. She and James now have three children and seven grandchildren.
After Judson, it was two years in the Kilgore Ranger Band, directed by Wally Read. Other
members of that trombone section included good friends Mike Geddie and Jerry Hale, who went on to serve as director of that group. During his freshman year, James went back to baritone in the concert band and trombone in the jazz band, and was inducted into Phi Theta Kappa, the national junior college honor society. He auditioned for the SFA band with Jim Hudgins, who subsequently left that year.
When money for college ran out his senior year, he took a part time position as Diboll band director. While at SFASU, James served as the charter president of the newly formed Phi Mu Alpha fraternity. He was also inducted into the honor society, Alpha Chi.
His first band position after college was Judson Junior High. Two of his best friends taught at the other city junior highs at that time, Don Lawler, and Paul Stroud. James quickly grew the Judson band from thirty-five to eighty members, and it was recognized as Honor Band of Texas, Class 2C in 1972. Snowden continued his advanced conducting study with Anshel Brusilow, Richard Burgin,Toscanini's assistant conductor; and Elizabeth Green. James undertook a ten year intensive study of the conducting techniques of Fritz Reiner of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.
Concurrent to his Judson years, James was asked to start the first orchestra at Longview High School and become coordinator of the string program. The LHS orchestra made a ten day trip to the Tulip Time Music Festival in Katwick aan Zee, Holland in 1973. The high school orchestra debuted in 1968, during which time he also organized the Longview Symphony Orchestra and conducted it for ten seasons. That ensemble is now fully professional. In 1973-74 he took off a year to finish his Ph.D. work at the University of Colorado.
The Judson band and the high school orchestra earned many UIL Sweepstakes awards during his tenure, and he made a ten day European tour with the orchestra. During this time, he was the music director of the Longview Community Theatre, conducting performances with full pit orchestra of Brigadoon, Camelot, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Sound of Music, My Fair Lady, Fiddler on the Roof, Annie Get Your Gun, You're a Good Man Charlie Brown, and many others. It was during this time that he and Shirley literally built their first home with their own hands.
Following this, he went to the University of Tulsa as assistant professor, director of the
orchestra, and supervisor of student teachers. While there, he established the “Music and Architecture” series with the UT Orchestra, concertizing in historic churches in the city of Tulsa. He was also the music director of the UT Opera Productions.
After three years at Tulsa, he returned to Longview to start a business, but he couldn't resist returning to his passion of music. In 1988, a large group of adult musicians asked him if he would organize and conduct a community band. That was the birth of the East Texas Symphonic Band, for which he has donated his services as music director for twenty-seven years. The band was recently selected as the 2014 winner of the Sudler Silver Scroll Award, Outstanding Community Band of America. During this time James served as Director of Bands for the Pine Tree Schools in Longview, winning many honors
and performing for President George Bush, Sr.
After retiring from the public schools, he served two years at The University of Texas at Tyler, teaching music literature and music education courses and two years at East Texas Baptist University, assisting with the band and teaching conducting, music education and music literature. Upon retirement there, he was named “Artist-in-Residence.” He also served for ten years as music director of the Longview High School drama musicals, was founder of the Tyler Home School Band, conducted for Opera Longview, and most recently served as president of the Judson Alumni Association. He has written sixty arrangements for wind band.
One of his most enjoyable projects was founding and directing the Torchlight Ski and Music Festival at Mt. Crested Butte, Colorado, for ten years. This was a music competition for bands, choirs and orchestras, combined with several days of skiing and fun in the mountains.
James' honors are “Outstanding Young Men of America,” “Who's Who in America,” “Who's Who in Texas Education,”and “International Who's Who in Music.” He has won the University of Colorado Conducting Award, was awarded a scholarship to the first Tamarack Conducting Workshop in Spokane, Washington, and was a guest conductor of the Houston Youth Symphony. In addition to the Longview Symphony, he has conducted the Dallas Symphony, Houston Symphony, Denver Symphony, Jacksonville, Florida Symphony and Orchestra in the Pines.
James and his wife Shirley love to travel the world and have been to Europe several times,
including a week of scary mountain adventures with wild Italian drivers. They regularly travel to the Caribbean to pursue their hobby of scuba diving. He earned his Dive master Certificate fifteen years ago. Their first loves, however, are hiking, skiing, and sightseeing in the mountains. They have made Colorado their second home for nearly forty years and they ski and hike there each year. James also loves big game hunting, and he wrote an article on the 1894 Swedish Mauser rifle. Another of his hobbies is canine obedience training. Since retirement from public schools, they have grown a sizeable real estate business which they manage.
The honors he values most highly are the 2014 Sudler Silver Scroll, recently being selected as “Outstanding Music Alumnus” SFASU 2014, and this tremendous honor of being recognized by Phi Beta Mu at the TBA Convention in 2015. He takes great pride in having seen many of his former students pursue music careers in Texas and other states. He wants to recognize the help, advice and friendship of other bandsmen who impacted his career, especially Paul Stroud, Pete Kunkel, Jim Yancey, Butch Almany, Jerry Payne, Neil and Doice Grant, and in particular Don Lawler for nominating him for this honor.
James says, “I owe more to Shirley, my wonderful wife and sweetheart of some 60+ years than to anyone else. She has supported me in every way, been to almost every ball game, parade, band function, fund-raiser, and concert—you name it—that musicians are involved in. She has inspired me all these years and still amazes me with her boundless energy and limitless love. She has given us three wonderful children and seven super grandchildren, and now we spend all the spare time we have spoiling them all. We enjoy raising and training amazing Shetland Sheepdogs, as well as traveling and enjoying the immense beauty and majesty of God's wonderful world, literally from the mountaintops
to the bottom of the ocean!”